King Kaufman's Sports Daily

NBA draft lottery: Blazers get Oden. Grizzlies, Celtics and Bucks get lucky. They won't get to fail with a top-three pick.


Salon Staff
May 23, 2007 8:00PM (UTC)

The Portland Trail Blazers won the NBA draft lottery Tuesday night, and here's my advice to them:

Take Greg Oden take Greg Oden take Greg Oden take Greg Oden take Greg Oden take take take take Greg Oden Oden Oden Oden. Take Greg Oden.

I know. They're probably going to. The supposed debate about whether the top pick should be Oden or Kevin Durant is a little like the debate about whether it's better to be a billionaire or a millionaire. Either'd be just dandy, but it's not hard to choose.

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Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy, who represented the team in glamorous Secaucus, N.J., Tuesday, talked to ESPN as though the Ohio State center were already a Blazer, which he should be and probably is. But we've got more than a month until the draft, and that's plenty of time for NBA executives to talk themselves into some pretty crazy ideas.

The whole league convinced itself that Andrew Bogut was going to be a dominant NBA big man two years ago. I tried to warn 'em, tried to tell 'em that Bogut was going to be a good but not great NBA player, and you don't spend the top pick on a good but not great player, even if he bumps his head on 7-foot doorways.

I know I said I'd take Marvin Williams with the pick. Why do you want to bring that up? I was going to talk about 2003 No. 2 pick Darko Milicic finally turning himself into roughly a league-average player, but listen, if you want to be that way, forget it. Take Rodney Stuckey, for all I care, Portland.

The Blazers don't need to be reminded of all this, of course. You can't spell, "Holy smoke, the Blazers did what?!" without s, a, m, b, o, w, i and e.

Durant, a Texas Longhorn, is a terrific player, and the Seattle SuperSonics should be thrilled to get him with the second pick.

Who's not thrilled: the Memphis Grizzlies, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, the bottom three teams in the league, who were bounced out of the top three by the ping-pong ball machine o' pain. The Atlanta Hawks got the third pick.

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Great. We tanked a bunch of games for nothing!

Retiring Memphis general manager Jerry West was quoted as saying the lottery system is "not fair." Wah. He insisted it wasn't sour grapes, but that's kind of a whiny way for the logo to go out.

He evidently likes the old system better. Under that, twice in four years, a coin flip turned a pick the Lakers had traded for into the top overall spot. The Lakers followed playoff appearances by drafting Magic Johnson and James Worthy. That was some shrewd trading, but also some dumb luck, and boy, was there a lot of tanking in those days.

The three losers shouldn't be crushed at losing out on the top pick. Chances are, they'd screw it up anyway. The Bucks, need I remind you, won the No. 1 pick two years ago, and they managed to parlay that into a 40-42 record and a just-barely playoff spot last year, then the third worst finish in the league this year.

The Hawks picked second two years ago, and while they've improved by 13 and four wins in the two years since, there they were Tuesday with an excellent 19.9 percent chance of landing Oden after finishing with the second-worst record.

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Here are some of the players NBA geniuses have taken with the ping-pong picks, the first three, in the past 10 years: Keith Van Horn, Michael Olowokandi, Raef LaFrentz, Steve Francis, Stromile Swift, Darius Miles, Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, Mike Dunleavy, Darko Milicic.

That's really just 1997-2003. It's too early to tell on the more recent drafts, but Marvin Williams, Andrea Bargnani and Adam Morrison could all join that list.

It's hard to picture anybody screwing up the top pick of this draft since Oden looks like such a sure thing. But just because he looks like a sure thing doesn't mean he is one. Lots of things can happen between now and the future. Injuries can happen, for one thing. Even worse things can happen too, as the Celtics can tell you.

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If you screw up the No. 4, 5 or 6 pick, which is what the Grizzlies, Celtics and Bucks will have, in that order, it's not as heartbreaking as screwing up one of the top three, especially that first one.

Talk about NBA draft busts and the names Bowie, Kwame and Darko come up in a hurry. But who outside of Chicago really remembers the Bulls taking Marcus Fizer with the fourth pick in 2000? Who still talks about Antonio Daniels, Tony Battie and Ron Mercer going at 4-5-6 while Tracy McGrady was on the board in 1997? Remember when Reggie Williams went at No. 4 and Scottie Pippen at No. 5? Me neither, but I looked it up.

The Associated Press report of Tuesday's lottery ceremony said, "For the Trail Blazers, the lottery was sweet revenge. A year ago, they had the worst record in the league and ended up with the fourth pick."

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Yeah, and they took that fourth pick, Tyrus Thomas, an exciting player but a bit of a project, and traded him to Chicago for the second pick, LaMarcus Aldridge, who had a terrific rookie year and figures to make up a hell of a frontcourt with Oden. Poor babies. I can see why they'd need revenge.

To be fair, the Blazers did have to give up Viktor Khryapa as part of that deal. Note to Viktor: Your mother just called. She wants to know who the heck you are.

And yes I know I said after last year's draft that I thought Thomas was going to be better than Aldridge. So far, not so good, and I'm not sure why you keep bringing these things up. Are there issues here? Hmm?

Stop looking so glum about the ping-pong balls, Memphis, Boston and Milwaukee. Memphis excepted, and only until West leaves, the problem isn't with the balls. It's with the people making the decisions. Be happy with those 4-5-6 picks. The mistakes will be smaller.

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Previous column: LeBron pulls a Nowitzki

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